Roaming Keymap Profiles

by Jeff Langr

January 13, 2010

When pairing, I often learn little shortcuts and tips that I might never pick up otherwise (even though I’m the compulsive sort who comprehensively reads things like the entire list of commands, just to find some new trick). I try to impart at least as many tips as I take on. Pairing makes it happen, as there’s little better than to have an insistent partner who keeps reminding you to “just hit Ctrl-Alt-v” (introduce variable in IDEA, an essential refactoring). In the absence of a pair, IDEA’s Key Promoter plugin helps a bit.

As someone who pairs across many teams, I regularly encounter different IDEs and programmer editors. Usually teams standardize on one tool, but not long ago I worked in a C++ team where there were 8, count ’em, 8 different editors in play. Currently I am working with a team where some people are piloting Eclipse, while the rest of the team uses IDEA.

Give me a few minutes and I can ramp up OK, but switching IDEs throughout the day will make just about anyone feel stupid. Ctrl-d, duplicate line in IDEA. Switch to Eclipse, oops, Ctrl-d, I just deleted a line. Nope, it’s Alt-Ctrl-Down to duplicate a line. Move a line up, Ctrl-Shift-Up in IDEA. Wait, though, I can’t remember the Eclipse corollary, but I do have muscle memory, and so I now have to go try it… wait for me… it’s Alt-Up. And so on.

Why don’t I just change the keymaps so that they’re more in synch with each other? Or why not use, say, a vi keymap everywhere? The problem is that I’m pairing with others, and so the simplest thing is to go along with the IDE defaults (which is what the predominance of programmers uses).

On my wish list and/or backlog of things to work on, I’d love it if IDEs would support a standardized roaming keymap protocol, as well as a simple mechanism for toggling profiles. I would be able to specify a URL from which the IDE would download my profile. From there on, a simple keystroke would toggle from the active keymap profile to mine and vice versa, in order to expedite pairing.

I’ve been hoping to see more support in IDEs for things like TDD and pairing. It’s coming, albeit slowly. Any plugin fanatics out there who want to give this one a go?

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Jeff Langr

About the Author

Jeff Langr has been building software for 40 years and writing about it heavily for 20. You can find out more about Jeff, learn from the many helpful articles and books he's written, or read one of his 1000+ combined blog (including Agile in a Flash) and public posts.